Positive education, hollow word, or real revolution?


For the past ten years, the expression “positive education”, often linked to benevolence, has been a great success, whether with school institutions or families. A whole series of variations is possible: positive parenting, positive authority or positive discipline.

Although its definition is yet to be done, it already appears that it is above all a question of respect for the rights and needs of children and adults through more comprehensive, empathic and constructive human relations.

Child protection

At the time of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed on November 20, 1989, positive education must be placed in this historic desire to take into account the needs and “the interest”. of the child.

This protection of the child has been developed through the laws on the rights of the child but also those of the State. In fact, the XIX th  century built a “protectional system” facing the omnipotence of parents, specifically the father of her offspring.

The refusal of the child abuse rhythm French legislation until the law of July 10, 2019 on “ordinary violence” that some, denigrating, call the law “anti-spanking”. Yet this unbearable violence exists, and children remain the forgotten victims of the fight against violence.

In France, a child dies every five days of blows from his parents, 165,000 children are victims of rape and sexual violence each year and children remain the first victims of domestic violence. All of these elements are a reality that places positive education as a necessity.

School climate

Since the law of refoundation of the school of the Republic of 8 July 2013 , the official texts of the Ministry of National Education stress that “the conditions of a calm school climate must be established in schools and schools to favor learning, the well-being and development of students and good working conditions for all “.

Benevolence and empathy contribute to the notion of a new “school climate” by enhancing students’ motivation and skills. This is linked to the results of international evaluations in the OECD’s Pisa program, pointing out that the education systems that are making the most progress are those based on caring. These elements illustrate the importance of the quality of the educational relationship between the teacher and the students for a real educational change.

Positive authority, a concept that spreads from the world of high performance sport, highlights the link between firmness and flexibility. In the field of education, “positive discipline” underlines again the importance of exchange, dialogue and respect towards children and adolescents. School punishments or humiliating appreciations, symbols of a coercive education, are normally proscribed.

Parental investment

The question goes beyond the school setting to be defined by some as a family revolution, with positive parenting . If no one can oppose the aspiration to harmonious relations between children and parents, this notion is subject to debate when it is perceived as an imperative.

In a book published in September 2019, Béatrice Kammerer emphasized the risks of mothers’ guilt that these demands of emotional work would cause without changing the division of roles between parents.

To be a parent is to grope and experiment. Education is never an exact science, and fortunately. Of course, scientific knowledge and in particular neuroscience are contributions, but this should not and can not provide an educational standard. However, the proponents of positive psychology most often try to validate it with measurable results.

The idea of ​​an evaluation of an education and above all the aims are asked. What do parents want with this positive education  : child development, cognitive performances of children, suppression of family conflicts, better obedience?

The risk of the norm

The current evolution is linked to this search for happiness. In Happycratie , Éva Illouz and Edgar Cabanas analyze the progressive control of our lives by the values ​​of positive psychology that support the imperative to personal fulfillment and well-being. It is not this desire for happiness that is in question, quite the contrary, but the means used and the intentions.

Transforming a process and an ideal into an injunction brings individuals to frustration and an endless quest. The welfare syndrome can lead to suffering related to this injunction of positivity and the inability to be happy. Is there not, behind the question of what is called being happy, the risk of creating an archetype of the positive, young, healthy and beautiful person?

Thus, it is clear that positive education is a necessity in the face of the abuse and coercion of some children. This is a prerequisite. Now it is appropriate to think of this positive education for the rights, respect and freedom of the child and his parents by avoiding the definition of a unique educational norm and by nature coercive.

Author Bio: Sylvain Wagnon is Professor of Universities in Educational Sciences, Faculty of Education at the University of Montpellier